One of the ways that the Catholic Church raised money during the Middle Ages was through the sale of ‘indulgences’. Which is a reduction in the time spent in purgatory, a place where sins were purged, so that a place in heaven can more or less be guaranteed. Consequently, the poor were getting poorer on earth whilst the Catholic Church was getting richer.
Concentration of wealth and power inevitably resulted in corruption. Thus, the Catholic clergy were increasingly indulging in extravagances and producing lots of illegitimate children by breaking their vows of celibacy and violating the Ten Commandments. It was Pope Innocent II in 1139 that gave the clear decree in prohibiting clerical marriages. However, priests and popes continued to have illicit relationships and fathered illegitimate children, Pope Innocent VII, Alexander VI, Julius and Pius IV are just a few examples. The sexual scandals of the celibate Catholic priests have continued throughout history.
One can attempt to lead a celibate life and remain ‘married’ to God but it is the same God that created the basic human instinct to procreate and therefore, it will inevitably surface in some form. So, it comes as no surprise that the early celibate priests, whipped, burned and starved their bodies in an attempt to control their inherent sexual desires.
If celibacy really has a divine origin, it must be either; a severe test from God or that God has made a mistake in this matter as human beings are asked to deny what is essentially part of their innate nature. Furthermore, if there were a sudden upsurge in celibacy, which according to Catholic theology is praiseworthy and therefore it cannot prevent; human race and the Church would decline with the possibility of it perishing if the situation became extreme.
There is no clergy within Islam and the scholars (Imams) are not condemned to the unnatural celibate lifestyle, rather encouraged to lead pious married life. Furthermore, the severity of the Islamic penal code for adultery and fornication ensures that they do not breach these boundaries; sexual scandals are rare amongst them. There is not a single example of a well-known Islamic scholar in the past and present that have fathered illegitimate children or engaged in illicit affairs.
The Western mass media however have often tended to give this point a different spin – sexual crimes committed by the Islamic ‘clergy’ is not reflected in the statistics as such cases are rarely reported by their helpless victims. The few examples given are carefully selected from remote villages or isolated parts of the country where the Islamic values have been fused with local cultural practices and they are led by a figure whose qualification is doubtful. In any case, if the victims are silent and there are no witnesses, what then is the basis for making such a claim in the first place? This sounds a bit like the Iraq’s WMD argument, since the weapons were not found they must have been hidden or destroyed: so, the Guilt is not proven but assumed.
The Islamic Scholars are not infallible, hence, they do make mistakes but such things should be random or isolated rather than exhibit a pattern. As for scandals, this is confined largely to political arena, manifested in controversial edicts (fatwas) and in some cases scandals are caused by money. This has been acute in the government controlled Sunni institutions where lots of moderate scholars are produced; hence the term “scholars for dollars” was coined. The Ayatollahs within the Shia school of thought have also shown similar problems but for different reasons.
The problem amongst the Shias is unique due to the notion of infallible Imams having the sole right to exercise political authority and in their absence strong emphasis on blind following (Taqleed) the scholars (Ayatollahs). The 12th and the last infallible Imam went into occultation around the tenth century and they wait for his return at some point in the future. Only he has to right to exercise political authority. Consequently, the traditional Shia school demands that the Ayatollahs should be celibate in the political arena.
There comes a situation you have to actively oppose the enemy and Political celibacy is not option and remaining celibate tantamount to treachery. The recent denouncement of the US installed puppet Iyad Allawi by Muqtada al-Sadr as an apostate and being worse than Saddam Hussein has missed the bigger culprit. Iyad Allawi has no following amongst the Iraqis and can be considered virtually part of the occupational forces but not Ayatollah Sistani. His silence meant most of the Shias did not participate in providing real support to the Iraqi resistance.
In fact, recently Sistani advised his followers to remain passive, effectively continuing the betrayal of Muqtada al-Sadr and giving the US forces a clear advantage. Even the gruesome revelations of the pictures from Abu-Ghraib did not lead to Sistani and the likes to break their silence. So, naturally the extreme pro-Israeli neo-cons like David Frum have cited Ayatollah Sistanis silence as approval of the US presence and their actions. Even now as the bombs are being dropped over Najaf, figures like Sistani and Bahr al-Ulum wait for the outcome, which will mould their response. This is surely Machiavellian politics and ironically those who are playing this game are supposed to be apolitical!
If Sistani wants to remain aloof from political matters then he has the option, to advise his followers to look towards another Imam who is willing to speak on this matter. This is the least Sistani could have done. He needs to really ‘advise’ on this point as people who have been nurtured on blind following (Taqleed) are unlikely to undertake such decisions by themselves.
One of the common accusation thrown by the Ayatollahs against the Sunni scholars is their close tie with corrupt secular regimes but the same corruption and worse can be bred if one completely disassociates from political affairs, as Iraq has clearly proved this point. Furthermore, such Ayatollahs are doing very little to oust the corrupt regime in the first place due to their political celibacy. It perhaps also means that they would do very little in practical terms towards the liberation of Palestine.
Some of the Shia scholars also frequently cite that the Sunnis are giving their alms to corrupt secular leaders as oppose to the pious scholars. A valid criticism perhaps but has the Shia scholars produced anything better with their Khums (Tax given by the Shias to their Imams), which runs into millions? How much of that money has been channelled into supporting the resistance movement? Is there an independent auditor present to verify how and where this money is spent? Khums has made many of the leading grand Ayatollahs very wealthy and although most have not led a life of extravagances, however, cracks are beginning to emerge.
It was reported that when grand Ayatollah Khoi passed way, left huge amounts of Khums, which was usurped by his son –” something that is clearly forbidden in the Shia school of thought. Which was said to be the primary cause of his assassination in the Mosque of Najaf when he returned from the UK. Being human and having enormous amounts of money does dampen ones desire to resist the Americans and greater preference is given to engaging in a ‘diplomatic’ solution by striking some sort of deal.
The Sunni scholars have also remained passive and those who have been vocal or given a voice by the secular mass media often tended to be from the perspective of ensuring that their respective governments position are not undermined. When the lone Al-Azhar Imam passed the fatwa that the situation in Iraq should lead to the opening the gates of Jihad he was immediately gagged and silenced by the institution.
Corruptions in the Catholic Church resulted in creating dissatisfaction and eventually culminated in producing the movement for the reformation of the Church. Figures like Desiderius Erasmus, Martin Luther, John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli became prominent leaders of this trend. It was Martin Luther, who later commented that the Pope was a glowing worm in a cowpat. The glowing worm signifies the enormous amount of wealth accumulated by the Pope who is surrounded by corruption, symbolised by the cowpat.
The celibate Ayatollahs with their wealth and the government controlled Sunni Imams are beginning resemble this same glowing worm. But an important distinction has to be made, it is not Islam but these glowing worms that needs to be reformed or removed. As the ordinary Shias and the Sunnis are slowly realising the treachery and incompetence displayed by their respective scholars we may witness some from of revolt in the guise of making these Imams and Ayatollahs irrelevant.